About 140 workers for Salford council’s direct service – refuse workers, recycling teams and road sweepers – struck on Wednesday 27 June. The workers are members of new Unite union. This was not a strike over pay, but against casualisation.
In 2001 Salford city bosses added a few agency workers to the city’s refuse and street-cleaning services. They said it was to cover “holidays and sickness”. On the picket line on Wednesday morning, one agency worker told Socialist Worker, “I’m supposed to be covering for someone off sick. He must be very ill – I’ve been covering for six years!”
Today, workers say that around two-thirds of cleaning and refuse staff are agency staff. Agency workers in the refuse service earn £5.35 an hour compared to £7.92 for council staff.
The job-security of agency workers is nil. “You can be sacked just because your face doesn’t fit,” said one. For agency workers, bank holidays are “normal working days” – but then agency workers don’t get holiday pay. They don’t get sick pay either.
“Training is a joke,” one worker told us. In the last few weeks, a sixteen-year old lad had both his legs broken when he fell under a refuse lorry’s wheels.
Some agency workers said they are told to provide their own waterproofs and safety boots – normally the employers’ responsibility.
What produced this situation? A worker explained, “It’s all part of Blair’s legacy. He boasts we have the most flexible workforce in Europe. That’s us – underpaid, undertrained, with no rights.”
“We’re saying, don’t devalue our jobs. Stop breaking national pay agreements. Pay council workers properly for their work.”
Salford is a Labour-controlled council. A quick visit to its website shows that 30 of its councillors shared £900,000 in expenses last year. The local MP is arch Blairite Hazel Blears.
The council’s cleaning and refuse workers – full-time and agency alike – are determined to kill casualisation before it spreads further. The strike is only the first step in a determined campaign.